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WARNING! This article contains graphic descriptions of foods that may be disturbing to some readers. Discretion is advised.
“What is THAT?” I love that question. What Andrew Zimmern calls “deep-end dining” is more available here in the Scenic City than you might think.
Recently, I was doing a little shopping at my favorite Asian market, Asian Food and Gifts at 3639 Hixson Pike. Locally owned and operated, they are cheaper and provide higher-quality products than any big chain supermarket. If you are a seafood fan, browse their freezers filled with prawns, clams, mussels, squid, octopus and all types of fish. They carry quail, black chickens, and even pork belly at lower (or competitive) prices than anywhere in town.
Their produce section is stocked with hard-to-find items like Chinese eggplant, Thai chili peppers, bitter melon, and lemongrass (although I get the pre-shredded, frozen lemongrass from the freezer. It lasts longer, is cheaper, and is much easier to use). Right next to produce is an entire section of ramen-type noodles imported from a half-dozen Asian countries in a mind-blowing variety of flavors, from chicken to beef marrow to duck.
As I made my way to the checkout counter, I noticed a stack of large eggs just behind the counter. They were too big to be chicken eggs, and since they were sitting out at room temperature, I knew I had just found balut in Hixson, TN.
If you have never heard of balut, it is a half-formed duckling still in the shell, incubated for about 18 days before it is boiled—similar to a hard-boiled duck egg. This is a popular street food, often eaten while drinking beer in the Philippines, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Are you still with me?
Cooking balut is just like cooking a hardboiled egg, boil for about 20 minutes. You then crack open the top portion of the shell, peel it back and drink the “soup” (basically the warm, embryonic fluid). It tastes like a clean, sweet duck broth with a hint of boiled egg yolk. Next, peel away the rest of the shell to expose the yolk, the white and the half-formed duck.
The white (or albumen) is covered with blood vessels spreading out like tributaries across a map, hard to look at and rarely eaten. I recommend skipping that part. The yolk is unremarkable, tasting like a yolk from a chicken egg, a bit strong but not especially unusual.
What is left looks like an H.R. Geiger teleportation gone horribly awry. But typical of these deep-end foods, it tastes much better than it looks. Not surprisingly, it tastes like sweet, tender duck and practically disintegrates in your mouth with just a few chews. The bones and beak are not formed enough to offer much resistance, and depending on the age of your egg there may or may not be any tiny feathers to contend with. Balut may be dipped in salt or a sauce of vinegar, garlic and chili, or lime and pepper, then chased down with a beer.
While you may not be ready to substitute balut for brats at your next cookout, finding that unfamiliar or seemingly hard-to-get ingredient for the dish you just saw on the Food Network may not be as difficult as you think. Small, locally owned shops are a goldmine of low-cost, quality ingredients. What is a specialty ingredient at a big supermarket is just food in many ethnic markets. Ask questions, buy local, and eat consciously!
Hot Off The Griddle
• Good Dog has added some seasonal and locally sourced items to their menu. New seasonal soups, sides, and cupcakes are now on their already tasty menu. For the meat-in-tube-form aficionado, Good Dog now case their own sausages in house.
• Hair of the Dog Pub just introduced some new items. The Bowl of Balls is sweet and tangy, Just the Tips sirloin tips are perfect with mashed and noodles, and the Beer & Bacon Mac & Cheese uses thick-cut pepper bacon and a beer-based cheese sauce.
If you have any news about restaurants, menu changes, new chefs, great local food producers, markets or shops, send it to http://scr.im/sushiandbisc (bot protected email link).